30 Jun Why cheap LED landscape lights are not a good buy
By Mike Gambino
Recently the marketplace has seen an increase in cheap LED’s which may appear to be a good deal however more often than not they turn out not to be so good. This article is about the light source (LED lamp) itself and not the lighting fixture. Stay tuned for a future article that will focus on LED fixtures both integrated and retrofit or with plug in socket LED light source.
An LED is a solid state device; it contains no filaments that can burn out or gas that can leak so it has a potential lifetime of up to 50 times that of conventional incandescent lighting. That is assuming that the LED is constructed with quality parts and careful human hands.
LEDs are much more efficient (lumens-per-watt efficiency) than conventional tungsten or halogen lights. A traditional 50W light bulb can be replaced with a 7 watt LED with the same light output.
The savings in electricity costs over the lifetime of the lamp more than cover the initial higher cost of the LED.
Finally, the quality of light can be fine-tuned with LEDs which leaves a lot of room for not getting it right. A white LED chip can have the odd red, blue or green mixed light color. For comparison think of all of the variations of white paint you can buy, but with a “hint of a tint” or in “pastel shades”. Very small changes to the basic white can make a big difference to the feel and nighttime look of a landscape. Several color temperatures are also available which range from the warm (2700 kelvin) or more incandescent amber tone to the cool white (5500 kelvin) which has a more green/blue color of light.
There is also some confusion as to which standards and norms apply to LED lighting. Many standards were originally written to cover conventional light sources and do not translate well to the different technology of solid state lighting.
There is no overall directive that is equivalent to the American Energy Star or UL8750 safety certifications.
So you’ve been eying LED landscape lights on the internet and you can’t figure out why some are so much cheaper than others that use the brand name LED manufacturers like CREE. Well in addition to using bottom of the barrel LEDs which look awful and have really poor color and brightness efficiencies, one of the ways that cheap LED light manufacturers keep their prices low is by using the cheapest form of cooling possible. When proper heat dissipation values or heat sinks are not engineered into the LED module this will result in the already crappy LEDs not being as bright nor running as long as they should.
The best LED lights will have an aluminum heatsink with a balance of mass and surface area as well as well as surface area that makes contact with the interior of the fixture to help vent heat off the heatsink and transfer outside the fixture. Aluminum is pricey in the quantities needed to provide significant thermal support for high powered LEDs. Cheap LED lights skimp on the value on longevity of their fixtures by eliminating as much aluminum as possible.
To run the LED in the safe operating range you need an LED driver, a special type of power supply that regulates the output current rather than the output voltage. The electronic drivers are also most important to the performance and longevity of the LED module. These devices are in essence mini circuit board computers that control the current to your LED chips also known as diodes. Cheaper drivers are often not dimmer capable.
LEDs have long lifetimes if powered by a quality driver. If the driver electronics are sub-standard or do not match the LEDs, then the LED lifetime can be very short – either the driver fails or the LEDs are overdriven until they burn out. For the average user, it is very difficult to assess the quality of the driver. Just looking at the case does not reveal the quality of components used inside and many driver datasheets are incomplete, misleading or downright false. Apart from testing the LED driver for at least 6 months before you buy, the only way to be sure of the driver quality or that the driver is truly compatible with the LED load is to buy from a trusted source.
If you want to sell yourself short on cheap LED lights be prepared to experience all the compromises firsthand and in the end you’ll be wishing that you’d gotten a LED landscape light with a little more engineering and long term value.
Purchasing from an unknown source over the internet without being able to first hand see the brightness and color capabilities of the lamp is like playing blind archery.
At Gambino landscape lighting we were very slow to offer LED lighting in our high performance landscape lighting systems. We took our time and waited to see until we felt the time was right to enter the market and begin offering LED lighting which was just over two and a half years ago.
There was and will always be some really poor performing products out there. Even more so with LED so you should only purchase from trusted and established sources.
Gambino landscape lighting has been in business for 24 years providing only the finest in landscape lighting products.
Unlike any other landscape lighting designer installer our products are proprietary, display our logo prominently, and are built exclusively for us to our high standards and specifications.
This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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